United Tribes News Speech Archives
David M. Gipp, President
United Tribes Technical College
August 17, 2004
BUILDING PUBLIC HEALTH CAPACITY THROUGH
REGIONAL COLLABORADIONS, PARTNERSHIPS AND NETWORKS
American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
United Tribes Technical College, Bismarck, ND
On behalf of the nearly 1,000 students, faculty, staff and board members, I welcome you to United Tribes Technical College. On July 1st, our college celebrated 35 years of serving the educational needs of American Indian students and their families. We're proud to be part of the family (Oyate) of America's Tribal Colleges and Universities, which now has a student population over 30,000.
As a former executive director of AIHEC (American Indian Higher Education Consortium) I know that we can be effective working together. When UTTC was formed in the 1960s, there were no tribal colleges. You could say we were a solution born of necessity, having arrived at a time of great social stress and difficulty. Since then we have demonstrated the fruits of collaborating on education for tribal people.
For those learning about tribal colleges, UTTC is an intertribally owned, postsecondary vocational school, fully accredited by the North Central Association (NCA) of Colleges & Schools. Students from over 50 tribes from throughout the nation attend annually, earning certificate and two-year technical degrees at the Associate of Applied Science level. Over 10,000 students have graduated from our programs.
Graduates are placed in jobs, which match the field for which they were trained or go on for further training or education. For work they go back to their home areas, adjacent communities or in other locations around the nation.
Our campus serves the entire student family. Children of adult students attend (on campus) two Early Childhood Centers and the K-8 Theodore Jamerson Elementary School. It is particularly significant that our retention rate of adult students averages 89 percent. The placement rate is 90 percent.
The College has excellent distance learning capabilities for college programs, training institutes and conferences in the form of interactive video, satellite and Online courses. We plan to build additional new facilities over the next few years and expand our 105-acre campus in Bismarck, North Dakota, and further develop our distance learning programs to serve 2,000 students and their families.
We know of the need for education in Indian Country. Half of the population is below age 24, which represents a huge challenge for providing quality educational programs for a long time to come.
PUBLIC HEALTH CHALLENGES
Based on our own experience and knowledge and research findings of studies such as the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Report 1997-2000, American Indians/Alaska Natives have many significant health problems. We have higher rates of serious disease, premature death and poorer birth outcomes than the nation's population as a whole.
Type 2 diabetes is at epidemic levels. I myself am diabetic, which came as a great shock to me. Several years ago I saw a projection that said 60 percent of the American Indian population would be diabetic by the years 2004-05. At that time I had no idea that I would be counted in the statistic.
We are plagued by high rates of heart disease, smoking, alcoholism, teen pregnancy and suicide. The poor health of our people demonstrates the urgent need for public health intervention programs.
At UTTC we know the need first hand because our students come from all across the country bearing these problems or the scars left by their personal experiences.
The five tribes in North Dakota, which collectively own and govern the College, share these problems too.
A huge land expanse bisected by a man-made lake, results in the problem of access to services for the Three Affiliated Tribes at Fort Berthold (The Mandan/Hidatsa/Arikara Nation). Tribal members make fewer visits to the doctor due to the great distances they must travel to the nearest health facility. The problem is compounded by the lack of adequate transportation.
The Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, with over 28-thousand enrolled members is one of the most densely populated reservations in the United States. Public health facilities and programs are simply overburdened on all fronts.
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe faces a water crisis. Over the winter 10,000 residents were without water for several weeks when the tribe's main intake structure became buried in silt due to low water levels on Lake Oahe. A temporary fix was made but there's still not a permanent solution, which could cost over $30 million.
In the pressing housing shortage at the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation, officials are faced with the additional problem of black mold. Public health facilities and programs are a key part of the infrastructure rebuild that tribal leaders believe is necessary there.
And, at the Spirit Lake Sioux Tribe, leaders recognize that the I-H-S is under-funded but continuity of care is essential. They have identified the need for more trained American Indian doctors, nurses, physician's assistants, community health workers, physical therapists and certified nurse assistants. But they also have learned that cultural differences play a role in reporting health problems and seeking medical attention.
- Tribal colleges have people who understand the needs of the tribal community
- Tribal colleges are perhaps more intimately connected to tribal leaders and tribal economic development programs thereby assisting students to get jobs in their communities after the training
- Tribal colleges should be able to help students find hands on experience in the tribal communities more effectively than mainstream training programs; some tribal colleges have agreements with mainstream institutions that could facilitate training opportunities
- Tribal colleges should be able to work together to offer training in the communities so people may not have to leave their current jobs (CHRs, etc) as they gain science based training in public health; some programs are now offered Online
- Tribal colleges are better equipped to ensure that public health training is culturally relevant and perhaps includes strong Spirituality components as well as alternative medicine focusing on traditional healing processes
- The CDC funded Injury Prevention Program at UTTC is a program that is already working to build capacity in the public health field and holds great promise for the future
- Politics - who should do the training and will the Tribal colleges support each other?
- Are there trained staff and faculty - masters and doctoral level faculty
- Adequate training facilities - are the financial resources available for equipment and infrastructure at training sites
- Could there be a tribal college 4 year public health degree offered Online?
- Is there a need to offer the same training course?
- Should there be discussion regarding tuition and who would collect fees?
- Have we clearly identified the jobs in tribal government for a 4-year public health degree graduate?
- What jobs exist off the reservation for 4-year public health degree graduates?
- While tribes could use training on the delivery of programs, they could also benefit from improved statistical reporting, needs identification, program development and evaluation of programs based on community change
- We have yet to fully embrace the needs and opportunities in the areas of math and science for American Indians
We learned some critical information from our experience in obtaining Land Grant status as tribal colleges and universities. We need to be in the driver's seat if we are to realize the main benefits from grants and partnerships with mainstream universities and major institutions. It's a fact that those who control the research, control the destiny of their people. Research drives public policy, which directs the development of a society's infrastructure. Tribes and tribal leaders are aware of this and are beginning to assert their governance. One model that works well in this regard is the Indians Into Medicine (INMED) Program at the University of North Dakota.
We need to employ all the creative thinking at our disposal to find effective ways to conduct research on our own as tribal colleges and universities and tribal organizations. Our goal ought to be to provide tribal specific public health assistance, training and education - sorely needed throughout Indian Country. For that we need more resources (CDC funding has been helpful) especially in the development of our own infrastructure to address the chronic health problems of our growing population.